With apologies to my many dogs I have never not traveled alone. Save for a few, and I mean very few occasions when I was momentarily married and one disastrous road trip, any time I have gone anywhere it was alone. From the minute I clutched my first set of car keys, I was exploring my world as far as gas money would take me. And in those 40 years it never occurred to me that I was doing anything unusual.
I guess I have been doing it so long, I have forgotten to worry that something might go wrong. There is no sense NOT doing things because something unplanned may happen. After applying a little common sense preparation, you just have to believe you can deal with whatever happens. That’s the part of life that makes a good memory, even if it was only the pride in how you handled it.
Because of certain life style choices I have always been limited by time. Between caretaking my other mother while she was alive and my constant stream of furry roommates, real Travel with a capital T, has only ever amounted to a handful of days. It had never been a goal to live a life punctuated by a 2 week vacation anyway. I have always made up for it with frequent road trips. Stretching as far back as commuter college, driving down a strange road was always my preferred drug of choice. Those early trips were also my first tokes of antiquarian bookshops, thrift stores and antiquing.
If I look at the calendar and see an unclaimed day, and the bottom of the bank account is even just a little bit damp, I pull out my Google map of places I want to visit. I didn’t always use a Google map stuck full of pins, I used to just pick a direction, and every time I would take a different route or go through a different town or even just go a little further than the time before. But when I moved to Maine and every direction was completely NEW I thought I’d be more organized. I converted my house hunting Google Map into a personalized sightseeing map. Adding different layers and assorted icons denoting road side attractions, museums, hikes, scenic spots, restaurants, shops, anything and everything I may want to see gets thrown onto THE MAP.
When plotting my road trip I look for points of interest clusters. If I go to this destination, what else is in that area? Where can I stop for a scenic lunch? But I don’t OVERPLAN, the death of spontaneity, you just end up struggling to keep to a schedule. One of the few pieces of advice ever to enter my head and make itself useful, I collected when I first started shooting photos seriously. When you go out for the day, pick a destination, you don’t have to GET THERE. Just having a destination gives you direction, and then you can follow your nose or yard sale signs or turn down the wrong road and end up someplace completely different and possibly BETTER. If you end up where you were headed, that’s still a win.
Aside from toll booth money, I usually bring very little cash, unless there are yard sales and flea markets in my target area of course. Like gas stations there are usually places to get more money if I REALLY ABSOLUTELY need it.
Pack your possibles. It looks like I am traveling for a week when I road trip. I always bring a raincoat and a sweater regardless of the weather at my house. I like to hike, so in goes the daypack and hiking shoes. In goes the camera bag and tripod. In goes the folding chair in a bag I bought that rarely gets used otherwise. In goes a tray table, some chair cushions and a thin blanket for the back of the Forester. (best additions ever) If the road trip or the hiking will be extra-long, I add a few extra cushions or a Thermarest pad, I’m old, I need naps.
Road Food. I like to bring a nice packed lunch, even if it is just bread and cheese or leftover bread pudding, and a Thermos (or two) with tea and coffee. I even measured the car space available before I decided on my cooler. I also bring a train case outfitted with a camp stove, tea kettle, flatware, condiments and cheese board. If I have to forage in a corner market for more grub, I can add four stars to any scenic view.
Drinking water. Like any good Yankee, my vehicle already carries emergency gear, jumper cables, flares, tool and the mandatory DeLorme stuffed into the seat pocket. I top it off with a gallon of water, which I use to refill my bottles, keeping it rotated; no one wants to drink last year’s water. In summer I slip that gallon into a cooler with the frozen blue things and with the milk for my tea.
Making water. When I was younger, I could toddle up the coast of Maine from one public restroom to the next without much worry. In built up areas, there’s a restaurant or store with clean facilities every few miles or even blocks. But I am older now and have to make other considerations. Thankfully the world has adapted to suit my needs, and there are dozens of devices on the market to make it easier for women to GO when there is no place to GO. At first it was a way to GO while hiking and keep my expansive backside free from blackfly bites, but the first time I used it in a dire emergency in the privacy of my vehicle, convinced me to buy another one FOR the car. This is where a beach blanket and an empty detergent bottle enter the picture. Research them, buy one, practice in the shower and put it in the glove box….don’t forget the towel, just in case.
Companion comfort. Already IN the car is the dog’s own backpack; I don’t mean the one I carry her in, that’s always in the car. I have a human pack attached to the seat back, containing bowls, harness, treats, orange t-shirt, sweater vest, poncho, and tie out cable. I expect there is a vast difference between traveling Alone alone and traveling with a dog. It’s been many decades since I road tripped without one, I don’t recommend it. I mean, the dog can’t change a tire or dial a cell phone and you do have to make destination choices to avoid leaving it in a hot or cold car, but if I can’t bring the dog, it’s probably not worth my time anyway.
Other voices. Out of the house, I think much more clearly, with a couple of hours of driving I can usually work through whatever is on my mind. In the last few years, I have sworn off news radio and keep an audiobook or five in my phone to keep me company. A 1/8″ jack cable connects it straight into my car’s radio or a portable speaker which works regardless of whether the engine is running. For the most part, the audiobooks are for drive time; otherwise I enjoy the quiet that comes from the phone’s Do Not Disturb function. You just gotta poke around to find it.
I do realize there is a literal TON of literature out there now on solo traveling and adventure travel for women. But the more I share my mundane experiences the more feedback I get from women who think just walking out the door is a brave thing. I can’t imagine why. I carry roadside assistance insurance for anything car related and actual statistics show that I am just as safe traveling, as I am in my own neighborhood. We hear about tragic occurrences, when someone takes a selfie on a cliff, or makes some other poor decision. But if we apply a little common sense planning and are prepared to handle the unexpected, we can enjoy our life much more than making decisions based on avoiding things.
Grab your keys, go someplace new.